How to Navigate Corporate Meeting Compliance

As compliance standards become even more complex, it’s crucial for planners to pay close attention to three important issues

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If there was ever a time when planning a corporate meeting simply involved choosing the perfect location and coordinating guests, that time has long passed. Today, the roles and responsibilities of meeting planners are becoming increasingly important as a result of ever-changing -- and highly complex -- compliance standards.  

In recent years, the regulatory pressures on multinational corporations have intensified, especially when operating in foreign jurisdictions. Due to such pressures, meeting planners are facing increased scrutiny around third-party outsourcing, information security, data privacy, and corruption-related risks.

In addition, globalization continues to drive frequent changes in foreign regulations, forcing international meeting planners to constantly educate themselves on the newest rules abroad so they can make the right compliance decisions. To make matters even more difficult, companies operating globally are often faced with overlapping and sometimes conflicting regulations, as well as pressures from multiple enforcement agencies from various jurisdictions.

For meeting planners -- especially those operating globally -- there are some obstacles that can prove particularly complex in the planning process. However, by being mindful of certain issues, meeting planners can accomplish their goals efficiently, within the bounds of regulatory compliance.  

Anti-Corruption

One hot-button issue receiving more attention from meeting planners and regulators lately is anti-corruption. Over the last few years, the meetings and events space has been the focus of anti-corruption investigations by both U.S. and foreign regulators.

Considering the heightened scrutiny of the meetings and events space, even meeting planners who are achieving compliance standards may encounter inquiries and allegations along the way. The best way to defend your company -- and quickly sidestep any accusation of wrongdoing -- is by managing expenses and maintaining an accurate reporting system, thereby ensuring your meetings and events program is both transparent and compliant.

Emerging markets -- which often equal high-risk jurisdictions from an anti-corruption perspective -- continue to present challenges for many global corporations, where growth opportunities and the need for in-person training or conferences can be greater. When planning meetings and events in emerging markets, internal compliance departments are often called upon for final approval to ensure compliance is being met. In addition, internal compliance departments are establishing new layers of control, such as review of the agenda and control over the attendance list, per-attendee spending, and budgets. It is not uncommon for compliance teams to review key metrics after each meeting or event; certain regulated industries, like the pharmaceutical industry, have strict reporting requirements when it comes to spending.

Considering compliance is such an integral part of any meeting planning process, meeting planners and internal compliance departments should work together to develop an integrated approach to planning meetings. By doing so, everyone involved in the process will understand at what point compliance needs to weigh in, thereby ensuring transparency and efficiency from beginning to end.

Duty of Care

Duty of care -- bringing employees home safely and protecting company assets -- is another important issue that corporations now need to consider. Understanding global security is crucial here.  

Security issues vary from country to country, so it is essential that planners are up to date on specific security regulations and issues in order to meet compliance requirements and ensure safety. The U.S. Department of State website is a great resource for ensuring that a meeting takes place in a location that meets the security needs of a client. In countries where it is common for social unrest or other political issues to arise, a strong force majeure clause is important in a contract and can help ensure that you are able to cancel the meeting without penalty if a security issue arises.

Local security officials can also be a great resource for planners who would like to become more familiar with local issues that may impact transportation and security. Local officials can also provide additional background on the venue, which can help planners identify potential challenges to security.

Ultimately, the more information planners can gather on the location selected for the meeting, the better equipped they will be in navigating compliance and upholding duty of care for travelers.

Information Security

Technology may not differ greatly from country to country, but it is important to make sure you are speaking the same technology language.

Before anyone packs their briefcase, meeting planners should meet with internal compliance and their information security teams in order to:

•    Establish a general set of data security guidelines for all travelers
•    Determine if the country/region where the meeting or event is taking place has unique risks -- this is where the compliance and technology teams might be particularly valuable, as they may have more knowledge concerning global data security
•    Decide if the country/region hosting the meeting or event warrants additional security measures, and what they should be

With meeting planners continuing to face new and rapidly changing regulations, an integrated approach with compliance is becoming increasingly essential when planning meetings. Meeting planners who recognize this need will find that their planning process becomes more efficient, and -- most importantly -- compliant.

Si-Yeon Kim is Chief Compliance & Risk Officer of American Express Global Business Travel. American Express Global Business Travel ("GBT") is a joint venture that is not wholly owned by American Express Company or any of its subsidiaries ("American Express"). "American Express Global Business Travel", "American Express" and the American Express logo are trademarks of American Express, and are used under limited license.